Gay still slumping; Leonard gets praise

by Edward Lewis

Courtesy of Antonio Zaragoza.

TUCSON, Ariz. — D.J. Gay called it a “relief.” Steve Fisher said he was “proud” of it.

But no matter what verb, noun, adjective or synonym for happy the San Diego State men’s basketball team used on Thursday night, at the end of the game, only one statement was necessary: SDSU made history.

For the first time in 15,713 days, the Aztecs won an NCAA Tournament game.

Take a look at some of the news and notes from the big win.

A future pro

Chris Kaba is a redshirt sophomore for Northern Colorado who hasn’t seen or played against very many, if any, NBA Lottery picks in his short career. So take his words with a saltlick.

However, in the postgame press conference, Kaba delivered the quote of the night about sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard: “He’s a lottery pick … I fully intend to see him in the draft next year.”

Leonard dominated Northern Colorado on Thursday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, posting his 40th career double-double (21 points, 10 rebounds). After the game, compliments were flying out of players’ and coaches’ mouths.

“Kawhi’s the best offensive rebounder I’ve ever coached,” Fisher said.

“If he can shoot perimeter shots like that, he is definitely a pro,” Northern Colorado head coach B.J. Hill said. “He’s such a hard guard. He’s so versatile.”

Leonard made nine of his 14 field goal attempts including three of his five 3-point shots. He also had two assists and a block.

Slump or no slump?

Amid all the chaos that was SDSU’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win was this statistic: 2-for-11.

Gay, SDSU’s senior guard, continued his slump on Thursday night against Northern Colorado, making just 18 percent of his shots. He was 0-for-4 at halftime and finished the game with just five points.

“I’ve been in a slump lately,” Gay said. “My offensive game hasn’t really been what it has been in the past.”

But just a few minutes later, Fisher said this nugget: “D.J. is not in a slump. The ball is just not going in for him.”

The quotes say one thing, but the facts say differently.

In his last eight games, Gay is 21-for-78 (27 percent) from the floor. From 3-point land, he’s 11-for-46 (24 percent).

Slump or no slump, Gay knows his jumper is off.

“My shot will come,” Gay said. “And I just got to stay confident in myself. And when I get the opportunity, take it.”

Little Jimmer

Even when the Aztecs officially no longer have BYU on the schedule, they still can’t escape the Cougars.

“Beitzel, not unlike Jimmer Fredette, he wears No. 32,” Fisher said of Northern Colorado’s best player, Devon Beitzel. “And he plays the same way.”

This time BYU and Jimmer actually helped SDSU.

Freshman guard Jamaal Franklin said SDSU practiced defending Beitzel the same way they practiced defending Fredette. And, Franklin said, since Beitzel wasn’t as good of a player as Fredette, it made it easier to guard him in the game.

“I wouldn’t knock anything from Beitzel,” Franklin said. “He’s a good player, but Jimmer was way harder guarding.

“We called him Little Jimmer. We prepared just the same way.”

Beitzel still managed to score 25 points, but SDSU cruised to an 18-point win regardless.

Short Shots

Former Arizona head coach Lute Olsen visited SDSU’s locker room after the game to congratulate the team on the win. … The Aztecs’ 33 wins are the most by a Steve Fisher-coached team. … Fisher improves his NCAA Tournament record to 21-9.

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